Main Line Computer Users Group

August 2005 Issue 279


MEETING STARTS - 09:30 - AUG 13 th

  • This and Future MLCUG Meetings
  • Announcements & Comments
  • Regular Reminders
  • Last Month's Meeting
  • Advanced Topic
  • Managing Your Cookies
  • Relief From Computers!
  • Microsoft's New Windows
  • MAP/Masthead/Meeting Schedule
  • RENEWAL & Membership Form


    Last month, we ran the meeting to better try to handle a variety of interests. It seemed not a disaster; so we'll work in that same vein for our August session.

    The first part will be aimed to deal with the questions, problems, tips, tricks and so forth, to assist the less experienced folks. This will require input from them.

    A short break will be taken. Then, we'll cover a variety of topics: John Murphy/Pete Whinnery will review how they have gone about recording, processing and posting the meeting proceedings; Layton Fireng, our Photoshop guru, will show some quicky tips on using this potent package (there may be a few more words about Photoshop Elements, too).

    If time permits, Emil Volcheck will review installing and starting with "PDF Creator" a very useful freeware on the MLCUG CD.

    Next, around noon, another brief break, followed by the advanced users turn. We have volunteers for subjects for this session; so we'll keep the agenda TBD for a while longer.


    Last month and this, we have modified our meeting agenda to try to better serve a wider range of interests and capability in our members, without having to move to a second meeting each month. Your Steering Committee very strongly solicits reactions and suggestions from all our members to try to make the experiment work out. So let us hear from you! Phone, email, listserv, etc.!!!


    SECURITY ITEM - in the recent weeks, Microsoft announced that it was planning a new measure to keep folks who have pirated copies of Windows XP from getting full use. When a computer connects to Windows Update, it will be scanned by the Microsoft website, to confirm that it has a valid, legal copy of XP installed. No action will be needed on the user's part - unless they have an illegal copy of XP. Tell us if you encounter any problems - with your legal copy!

    OUR WEBSITE - just a reminder that our faithful webmaster, Pete Whinnery, will be most appreciative of ideas to improve the usability and value of this website; so don't hesitate to suggest (he says he's still learning, after all these years !).


    1) our email mailing list is run for the member's benefit; so please do not hesitate to post notices or problems to it. If we can't solve the problem remotely, we can be alerted to it ahead of a meeting where hands-on may do the job.

    2) attendees know that we have a very fast internet connection from the VU meeting room (we have hit 800+ KBps, that's really moving - tho past performance is no guarantee of the future!). If you have a BIG download, you can bring along a zip disk (or a CD-R/RW) and get it done before or after the main meeting.

    3) a half dozen or so of the regular attendees usually partake of lunch. We have now transferred our affections to the Country Squire diner in Havertown at Route 3 and 320. So, after the meeting, why not join us? It is a good time to get a little more help (or give it) and just have fun talking about our common interests.


    With 18 folks attending our July meeting, we took a starter on rearranging topics and how we run them. Hopefully, we made some progress; so I'd appreciate feedback on the changes.

    Our regular announcements started the meeting and this ran a bit long - partly because I dwelt on the subject of managing your cookies in view of the recent info that a company has figured out how to harvest copies of all the cookies on your computer. So, if you have not been diligent about cleaning them out, such a collection will provide quite a bit of info about how, what and where you spend your time on the 'net! See the item on p.6 about this topic.

    John Murphy had set up a pair of mikes for another attempt to record the meeting discussions and make them available for downloading. He has usable recordings from the two previous meetings, but there are still some rough edges. This time he had a pair of mikes, instead of just one and a new mixer to be able to adjust things a bit more before feeding the signal(s) to Audacity running on his laptop. Watch the website for notice on when this technique has been reduced to practice...

    For the second month, Joan Stanford (and Layton Fireng) had brought a coffee pot and fixings to provide coffee available thruout most of the meeting. It was well used as far as I could tell. How about some feedback on this extra for the meetings? Should we keep it up? Let us hear from you.

    Some comments on broadband may be worthy of passing along: John Deker noted that he has recently switched to Cavalier Telephone and signed up for their DSL and a phone service package (local and long distance). They had a better and lower cost offering compared to Verizon. John said he'd let us know how it goes.

    John Murphy noted that the Verizon FIOS that he went to a month+ ago continues to work. Fast and quiet and no service interruptions so far. He's very pleased.

    A discussion ensued about FIOS compared to Comcast cable. The jury is still out on this score. Verizon has the enormous capability of fiber optics going for them, plus the long term reliability of the phone system. Comcast has the better position in TV offerings that will certainly induce some folks to go with cable internet as part of the package. Until Verizon gets more installations in our area, adds TV and builds a service record, we'll just have to wait and see.

    Rich Tave showed a SONY mini-hard drive that can be a portable music player and/or data transfer device - very neat little box! Ed Cohen described a widget he got that broadcasts your portable music player and such to the FM radio in your car - for those who do not have a CD player or other such device in their car.

    On the Linux front, Pete Whinnery mentioned that MicroCenter is selling some Powerspec computers that are based on Linux, instead of Windows - priced at $200 and $300 (or $100 and $200, if you sign up for one of their credit cards). Emil Volcheck mentioned that he had invested in one of the boxes - the Powerspec model 1415 (the $300 variety). Folks asked about putting in other versions of Linux, instead of the Linspire 4.5 that the computers come with. The answer is yes, you can. Emil noted that the box comes with a CD of Windows drivers and some system utilities; so you can put Windows on it, if you have a Windows CD. The boxes are aimed at first-time Linux users, even first-time computer users (actually Wal-Mart has been selling Linspire Linux-based computers for the last couple of years, at very low prices, aimed right at the first-time buyer). If there is interest, I'll bring it, so folks can have a look-see.

    QUESTIONS & PROBLEMS- as I had announced on the listserv and in the newsletter, we want to take some time at the meetings to regularly handle questions, try to solve problems or generally provide help to our less experienced members. About 3 folks came prepared, but we were only able to tackle two of them:

    Marty Caulfield, on a Win 98SE PC, has been unable to get defrag to finish the job. Each time he runs defrag, it tells him that there is a problem and he should run scandisk to fix things, then re-run defrag. He runs scandisk, which gives him an OK, but defrag just gives the same response and won't do the job - no matter how many times he runs scandisk. He noted that his hard drive is partitioned and that only one of the partitions has the problem. Marty then described the various classical schemes to deal with this fairly common problem that he has tried; but, they have not fixed it. The extensive discussion did result in a couple of additional suggestions:

    1) run scandisk in the thorough disk surface scanning mode (which could take a while, but might uncover an underlying hardware problem) 2) boot from a DOS floppy disk and run the scandisk and defrag utilities from it

    Rich Tave, on a Win XP laptop, has a problem of icons that should be showing up in the tray disappearing from the scene - not just hiding behind the expand arrows, but not being in the tray at all. When he forces one to come back (like the volume icon), it again goes away after a bit. Although there were a number of things discussed, I'm not sure that anything with a decent success probability came up (tho I don't think we suggested reinstalling Win XP).

    We had to cut the discussion off here, as we had encroached pretty much on the time for our meeting program topic. Two items had been in the meeting notice, while a third had got left out. So, we began with the latter:

    John Deker had brought one of the C-64 DTV devices - a $20 "joystick" from Toys-R-Us, last time and we got a glimpse of it. This time, he had it hooked up to the big TV in the meeting room and fired her up. A few seconds after he turned things on, we were treated to the classical C-64 startup screen and a choice of thirty (30) built-in games (classics formerly on plug-in cartridges). He just had time to show us how they operate, then switched to a show of how to get to a hidden feature. By wiggling the joystick handle just right as it powered up, you can get a "real" C-64 startup and a push button gives you a virtual keyboard on screen; so you can "type" in commands to operate your C-64 on-a-chip! John told us about the solder points on the PCB inside that let you connect a keyboard and mouse. Maybe next time? Thanks, John....

    Next, Peter Whinnery introduced us to RSS. A quick query showed that only a couple of attendees were familiar with this new web tool. RSS, which has stood for several acronyms, is now generally used for "Really Simple Syndication" and is a way for users to be notified of new things showing up on websites that have equipped themselves to offer the RSS service. You have to be using a browser that can provide RSS. At the moment, both Mozilla and Firefox do so. No one had heard if is yet a plug-in or extension for Internet Explorer (so, this is another possible inducement to try Moz or Fox). To make the thing click, you have to have the website attribute and the extension for the browser that can use it.

    RSS WEB SITES- at this time, web sites with RSS capability announce it via a little orange rectangle with initials for either "RSS" or "XML" (as RSS is based on some XML code added to a web page. A web site that has it is the BBC news which Pete used as his example:

    Browser Extension- Pete first installed the Firefox (v1.0.4) web browser. He noted that the Mozilla browser, already installed on our BTO computer, could do it, but he had never used Mozilla; so on to Firefox. The installer was already on the hard drive and this installation took only a few seconds. He had it launch as soon as the install finished, then went to the Extensions site (click Tools, then Extensions to get there). Once at the Firefox extension site, he searched for and located the extension he prefers, SAGE 1.3.5, and installed this small program.

    Once the SAGE extension was available, he showed us what it could find (a lot!) on the BBC web site. He also showed how to set things up so SAGE would perform the checking for updated, or changed, content on the BBS site.

    It looks like this could be an excellent tool for keeping up-to-date on web sites that have frequent changes, without needing to check all the time. As an exercise, Pete said that he'd see about adding RSS to the MLCUG web site; so members (or anyone actually) would know about a change, like the monthly meeting announcement posting. Watch the listserv for notice on this one. Meanwhile, you might want to RSS equip your browser. Many thanks to Pete for his usual well-done job!


    Following a short break, and the departure of folks not interested in the "advanced topic"part of the meeting, we started just that. Prior to the meeting, Pete Whinnery (yes, again!) had indicated he had a topic to put before the meeting; so he grabbed the spotlight again (no pun intended, but spotlights is what his subject was all about!)! Most of you know that Pete makes his living by teaching stage design and lighting at the University of Pennsylvania and by designing and operating lighting setups for local theater companies.

    For some years, Pete has used a program called "Radiance" to design stage lighting schemes - and as a teaching tool with his students. Radiance runs only under UNIX or Linux; so when he learned of the program years ago, he had to have a desktop system that would run - and that's what got him started into the Linux OS. He has subsequently become a strong advocate for Linux - as MLCUG meeting attendees know!

    For his students to use the program, most of whom do not have a Linux savvy computer, he had set up a small computer lab for the students to come to learn the software and use it for their assignments. This has been awkward and had limited access, since he couldn't set up a potful of systems for many-student use.

    With the arrival of the Live Linux on a CD - Knoppix - he developed a desire to modify the Knoppix distribution CD so it would contain and allow use of Radiance. The development of that CD was the subject of his presentation for July. In summary, it involved:

    a) decompressing the files on the Knoppix 3.9 CD to his hard drive

    b) removing parts that were not needed for the student's use - to make room for Radiance and associated code

    c) putting that code into the mix

    d) modifying various portions of the boot up code, etc.; so the CD would boot and enable use of Radiance, including provision for a spot on the student's hard drive for their homework (since they can't save that stuff on the CD)

    e) recompressing all that stuff and producing a new .iso file that would permit burning new CDs for the students to use

    Pete, naturally, had brought along one of these CDs that he said was almost ready for prime time. He demoed the boot up on the club PC, running Knoppix and enabling Radiance. The last part of his story was the demo of running Radiance and showing us again what a masterful application it is! He also reviewed the modifications he had made in past years to the Radiance program to make it more suited for use by students and regular people :-)

    This brought us to about 1:30 PM, a rather long meeting, but well worth it.

    Next month, we'll try to get these various aspects of the meeting to fit together a bit better. See you then? [Emil Volcheck]


    You should realize that some cookies are "good", that is useful to YOU (as opposed to being primarily useful to the folks putting them on your machine), simply wiping them out before you close down your computer is not the most elegant solution. Depending on your browser, you can manage them a bit better:

    INTERNET EXPLORER- since IE does not have a built-in cookie manager, a simple route is to download Karen Kenworthy's "Cookie Viewer". It will show your IE cookies and allow selective removal or retention. If you grab a passel of cookies, this can be a bit tedious. So, you might want to start by removing all cookies, then use the Cookie Viewer diligently after future web travels to keep your cookies in check.

    FIREFOX/MOZILLA- these browsers have a built-in "Cookie Manager" that lets you handle cookies, like Karen's Cookie Viewer. But, you can install a little extension for them, called "Cookie Culler" that lets you tag (or protect) specific cookies (obviously, for you, the "good" ones) and delete the rest with a single click.

    As we've emphasized in recent months, there are good security and privacy reasons for switching your browsing to Mozilla or Firefox, this little tool adds to the merit of such a change.

    OTHER BROWSERS- if you use another browser, I suggest that you check into how/if it provides control of cookies to decide if you might want to continue its use.


    [Courtesy of Joe Pizzirusso]


    Even, if you're Microsoft, it's no guarantee you'll get it right! The next version of its Windows OS has now been dubbed "Vista". And, the announcement was immediately followed by a lawsuit! Seems that another organization claims that "Vista" is THEIR trademark!! Maybe they'll settle for chump change.....

    PC/128/64 Meetings  2005  Steering Committee Meetings
    			August 13 			August 24  **
    			September 10 			September 14  *
    			October 8			October 19  **
    		* = SECOND Wednesday		** = FOURTH Wednesday
    EDITOR:  Emil J. Volcheck, Jr.   1046 General Allen Lane    West Chester, PA 19382-8030
    (Produced on a Powerspec PC: Athlon 2000+, 512 MB RAM, 80 GB hard drive, Brother HL-5170DN laser printer, HP Scanjet 6300C, DVDR/RW and 250 MB Zip drives, using Appleworks 5.0.3, EditPad Pro) and PDFfactory Pro
              MLCUG LISTSERV: for members only...
                   PUBLICITY: Position OPEN!
           VILLANOVA SPONSOR: Prof. Frank Maloney, Dept. of Astronomy
    PRESIDENT: Emil Volcheck    610-388-1581  SECRETARY: Charles Curran 610-446-5239
    TREASURER: John Deker       610-828-7897  AMIGA GURU: John Deker    610-828-7897
    WEBMASTER: Peter Whinnery   610-284-5234  DATABASE: Layton Fireng   610-688-2080
    AT LARGE:  Tom Johnson      610-525-3440  AT LARGE: John Murphy     610-935-4398